It's noon on day one of the "Backyard Habitat" television shoot, and confusion has erupted on the set. This episode is being filmed at a...
It’s noon on day one of the “Backyard Habitat” television shoot, and confusion has erupted on the set. This episode is being filmed at a private home in Issaquah, and one of the featured animals is the mountain beaver.
“Wait a second,” co-host Molly Pesce, a former Miss Florida and actor, shouts from the edge of the yard. “These aren’t real beavers?”
Co-host and naturalist David Mizejewski has just informed her that the mountain beaver is not, in fact, a beaver.
“So they don’t have the cute little teeth?” she asks, disappointed.
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“They’re kind of like big hamsters,” Mizejewski says in a consoling tone.
Moments later, director Michael Samstag, in the course of outlining the next shot, says to the hosts, “Then you two will talk about this badger thing.” One of the grips corrects him, yelling, “Beaver!” which prompts another staffer to add, “Not a real beaver.”
But the show must go on, and luckily, it’s a really good show.
Learning to live with wildlife
Created by the Animal Planet TV channel in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation, the stated goal of the series, which airs weekdays at 11 a.m., is to “make the planet a better place for animals, one back yard at a time.”
Combining elements of garden, nature, animals, education, crafts and home-makeover shows, the “Backyard Habitat” crew swoops down on a family who wants to make their yard animal-friendly. They teach them about the plants and animals native to the area and, in the process, give them a cool new outdoor setting — whether it be on a balcony, rooftop, patio or in a back yard.
The back yard of the moment is that of Cathy Bell-Brandt and Doug Brandt, who bought their heavily wooded property on Squak Mountain a year ago in the hope of living in harmony with nature.
“We both share a real love of wildlife,” Brandt says.
“It’s pretty much my life’s passion,” adds Bell-Brandt. When she lived in Tukwila, she was instrumental in the city’s certification as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat — the first such city in Washington so named.
Since the couple has band-tailed pigeons and mountain beavers on their Squak Mountain premises, they are hoping to make a welcoming habitat for these creatures, rather than scaring them off.
“It’s especially important to me that Sam [her 3-year-old grandson] experience nature and learn respect for it,” notes Bell-Brandt.
The show makes a strong point that simple accommodations for neighboring wild animals also means they are less likely to pester you by eating the plantings you didn’t intend as a buffet.
A Northwest native, the mountain beaver isn’t picky when it comes to eats, but because of its primitive physiology (the animal is traceable back 40 million years), this rodent has to drink about 20 percent of its weight in water every day.
Accordingly, the main element of the couple’s new back yard is a water feature — a lovely pond surrounded by native plantings.
Stick with Mother Nature
“Backyard Habitat” emphasizes the importance of gardening with native plants and explains why, as Mizejewski says, “Not every garden is a good garden.”
He notes that gardens planted with invasive species actually are harmful to the environment.
“The native wildlife has co-evolved with the native plants,” he adds. “And it’s best to stick with Mother Nature.”
Local freelance garden designer Lucinda O’Halloran selected environment-appropriate flora that will beckon wildlife, including penstemon for hummingbirds and butterflies, and pink water lilies for western toads. The band-tailed pigeons are expected to enjoy the large Solomon’s seal and the evergreen huckleberry, while the mountain beaver will feast on flowering currant, salal and western bleeding heart.
“What you do in your back yard impacts wildlife miles away,” says Mizejewski.
And the final “reveal” makes it easy to believe him.
The back yard is gorgeous and inviting — the pond, the plantings and the moss-covered birdhouse Pesce crafted on-camera with young Sam.
But despite the allure of the setting, it seems wild-animal stars are a finicky bunch, and they can’t always be counted on to make it onto the set.
“In reality, it’s hard to get the actual animal to show up in the two days we’re here,” says Mizejewski. “Though we got lucky with a chickadee in Knoxville.”
No such luck at the top of Squak Mountain, where the primarily nocturnal mountain beaver maintains a Sasquatch-like presence, and the band-tailed pigeons have deigned to appear only once, in the fog.
Consequently, outside talent is imported.
On day two, a band-tailed pigeon fresh out of rehab at the Sarvey Wildlife Center in Arlington arrives in a pickup truck. His cage is carried out to the beautiful new backyard habitat and unlatched.
Inside the couple’s house, pressed up against the picture window, family and crew gasp a collective breath as he takes flight.
It’s a wrap.